Egypt’s forces hit by rockets, explosives in deadly attack
Sheetal Sukhija - Sunday 22nd October, 2017
At least 52 police officers and conscripts were killed in gun battles
Militants fired rockets and detonated explosives in the attack in the western desert
The interior ministry said 16 police were killed in that part of the operation
CAIRO, Egypt - In one of the most deadly militant attacks targeting Egypt’s security forces, militants are said to have fired rockets and detonated explosives, killing at least 52 police officers and conscripts.
The gun battle and attack are said to have targeted and attacked a police operation in the western desert on Friday.
According to Egyptian authorities, the security forces suffered one of their heaviest attacks that they claim killed 16 men after their patrol came under attack.
The death toll cited by security sources, however, stood at 52 as they claimed gun battles ensued after the patrol came under attack.
According to Egyptian authorities, two police operations were moving in on a suspected militant hideout on Friday when one of the patrols came under fire from heavy weapons.
The attack took place in a remote area around 135 km southwest of Cairo and the country’s Interior Ministry said 16 police were killed in that part of the operation, while 13 others were injured.
The Interior Ministry also added that at least 15 militants were also killed in the gun fight, but officials did not give details on any casualties in the other police patrol.
The interior ministry said in a statement, “As soon as the first mission approached the location of the terrorist elements, they sensed the arrival of the forces and targeted them using heavy weapons from all directions.”
According to a security source cited in reports, the convoy was attacked from higher ground by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive devices on the ground.
So far, no group has claimed Friday’s attack - even though experts have pointed out that most of the fighting so far between militants and security forces has been in northern Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate operates.
Earlier, security sources stated that the police had been hunting a hideout of the Hasm Movement, an Islamist militant group blamed for attacks on judges and police around the capital.
Since it emerged last year, the group has carried out mostly small operations.
According to Egyptian authorities, the group is the armed militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group it outlawed in 2013 and most of its leadership has been jailed in a crackdown under Sisi.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former military commander who presents himself as a bulwark against terrorism has stressed on security as a key priority for his administration.
Sisi, who led the ouster of president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, was elected on a landslide a year later.
So far, Sisi has not declared his intentions, but is widely expected to run for re-election in April next year.
Experts believe he will face very little opposition too.
However, critics believe that his popularity has diminished because of security and economic austerity policies.
Since Sisi came to power, hundreds of troops and police have been killed in often sophisticated attacks by militants in the northern Sinai region.
The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group had pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014 and operates in the very region.
Friday’s attack comes a week after at least 24 militants and six soldiers were killed in attacks on military outposts in North Sinai.
During the attack, over 100 militants repeatedly attacked security outposts south of the border town of Sheikh Zuweid.
While militants have mostly targetted police and armed forces, they have also extended their campaign outside the Sinai, targeting Egypt’s Christians with bomb attacks on churches in Cairo and other cities over the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, officials in Egypt’s Interior Minister issued an official statement on Saturday saying Friday's incident would be investigated and suggested that the heavy death toll may have been partially caused by incompetence, intelligence failures or lack of coordination.
Officials also stated that prosecutors will look into whether the police's counterterrorism agents failed to inform the military of the operation or include them.
Late on Friday, two audio recordings purportedly by policemen who took part in the operation was widely circulated online and a policeman, apparently using a two-way radio, was heard in the nearly two-minute recording pleading for help from a higher-ranking officer.
The policeman in the recording was heard saying, "We are the only ones injured, sir. We were 10 but three were killed. After their injury, they bled to death, sir. They took all the weapons and ammunition. We are now at the foot of a mountain."
A second recording was also released, in which a policeman was heard warning others, "I can't identify any direction. Only planes can see us. Take care everyone,” adding that militants were pursuing them.
On Saturday, the United States State Department released a statement condemning the attack, offering "profound condolences to the families of the deceased and the government and people of Egypt... at this difficult time."
The statement added, “The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack against Egyptian security forces near the Bahariya Oasis yesterday, which killed dozens of Egyptian personnel and wounded many others. The United States stands with Egypt at this difficult time, as we continue to work together to fight the scourge of terrorism.”
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